A devastating earthquake in 2009 that destroyed Stefano Biasini’s and Michele Morelli’s restaurant in their city of L’Aquila, Italy was not enough to dampen the restaurateurs’ ambitions. In partnership with investor Riccardo Longo, they set their sights on Rittenhouse Square and have artfully been able to replicate an authentic Italian “great cafè.” Aptly named Gran Caffé L’Aquila, after their beloved and partially destroyed city, this gastronomical delight proved to be as authentic as its name.
Gran Caffè L’Aquila features a multiregional Italian bar and café featuring assaggi (small plates), regional wines and beer, artisanal gelato and pastries made on the premises. One diner described it as “the creamiest gelato ever” and the most robust espresso and cappuccino he had ever tasted. As you enter L’Aquila, you are greeted with 24 gelato flavors to choose from on display. L’Aquila’s décor and food scream authenticity. The restaurant was completely designed and built in Italy and reconstructed here in Philadelphia at 1716 Chestnut St.
At this July 22 Bar Academy event, hosted by co-chairs Hon. A. Michael Snyder and Nikki Johnson-Huston, attendees were able to enjoy three delicious courses served with gelato by Biasini, World Cup of Gelato champion, and then finish the night with coffee by Morelli, who was awarded Italy’s highest rating for torrefaction.
Although this was not an evening focused on lawrelated topics, the attorneys present were able to unwind and network at this fun, elegant event. While dining, all were able to view the gelato and coffee-making techniques and processes in action. Following dinner, attendees sampled stracciatella after Biasini demonstrated combining sugar, milk and air to produce this gastronomic gelato indulgence.
Next was a tour of the coffee area, where beans, rich in texture and aroma, excited the senses. Morelli explained that in his view, certain American coffees were inferior to his coffees, made fresh on premises. Interestingly enough though, Robusta beans used in some of his varieties are associated with instant coffee brands here.
After the tour, attendees sampled delectable cheese and gelato courses paired with wines from different regions of Italy. A favorite, the pansotti, homemade ricotta and herb-filled ravioli topped with a homemade walnut pesto, was paired with a 2013 Vermentino from the region of Liguria. Samplings of gelatos ranged from an extra virgin olive oil and fresh oregano offering to a coconut and rum. The coconut and rum gelato contains 10 percent alcohol, so diners must be at least 21-years-old to enjoy it. However, a tasty combination for all ages was the fresh oregano gelato with imported burrata, a cheese from the Puglia region, and buffalo mozzarella from Campania.
The experience of authentic Italian cuisine created by Biasini and Morelli, along with the immersion in Italian culture, was fascinating. Gran Caffè L’Aquila is well worth a visit.
Maureen M. Farrell ([email protected]), principal of the Law Offices of Maureen M. Farrell, is an associate editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter.
This article originally appeared in Philadelphia Bar Reporter, October 2016.